“I keep thinking it would be very funny if you and I just blew away,” Michael Showalter told the moderator last night during a gusty Rooftop Films screening of his new film, The Big Sick.
The director, who got his start in the Stella comedy troupe, imagined out loud what the crowd at the William Vale rooftop would think: “Thank god, this conversation is boring the fucking shit out of me. I thought Showalter was funny but he’s, like, all fucking serious, talking about himself as a filmmaker or whatever.”
Actually, many people already know Showalter– who sold his Brooklyn home in 2015 and is now based in Los Angeles– as a filmmaker. The last time we saw him doing a Q&A, it was during the premiere of Hello, My Name Is Doris, starring Sally Field as a 60-year-old data entry worker who manages to become the toast of Williamsburg hipsters. His new one again strikes a balance between comedy and heartfelt drama. It’s based on the actual courtship between the film’s writers, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, and the time “Girlfriend in a Coma” became more than just a Morrissey song for Nanjiani. But you already knew that, unless you too have been in a coma.
Showalter, who previously directed Nanjiani in Hello, My Name With Doris, said he came on board about three years after the Silicon Valley star and Gordon, who are now married, first started writing the script. At the time, it was “just this explosion of ideas,” and Showalter found himself “encouraging them to get some creative distance from the actual thing that had happened to them, so that we could create something that had a universal [appeal].”
The filmmakers were aiming for something that “wasn’t just a reenactment or a documentary,” so they took creative liberties. In real life, Nanjiani and Gordon hadn’t broken up when she was put into a medically induced coma and he was thrust into helping her parents take care of her. Also, Gordon’s real-life parents don’t closely resemble the feisty southern mom and the reserved New Yorker dad in the film. Those characters were written specifically for Holly Hunter and Ray Romano even before they signed on. There was a distinct possibility that Hunter and Romano wouldn’t end up taking the roles, but “when Judd Apatow is the executive producer, it’s not crazy to think they might want to do it,” Showalter said.
Though it hasn’t opened wide yet, The Big Sick is now playing at Alamo Drafthouse and other NYC theaters, and has already clinched this year’s highest per-theater box office average for an opening weekend. “It’s crazy,” Showalter said. Not that he has much time to bask in it. He came to the Rooftop Films screening directly from the set of Search Party, which he produces. He said the North Brooklyn-set show will return to TBS “I believe in the fall, I’m not exactly sure yet.” Meanwhile, his revival of Wet Hot American Summer, which previewed its first season at SummerScreen a couple of years ago, returns to Netlfix in August. Showalter set the scene for season two: “It’s 1991, our camp counselors are in their mid-20s.” Watch the trailer, featuring new cast members like Alyssa Milano, below.